Paul Routledge

The unwritten story behind Robin Cook's defenestration from a high window in the Foreign Office lies in Washington. Quite simply, the Americans do not like Cook, and they told Blair to get rid of him. All those years of truckling up to Madeleine Albright and playing a subservient role in the US war against Yugoslavia counted for nothing with the Bush regime. George Dubbya cannot cope with a bloody pinko who once supported CND, and Tony caved in to his demand. This is the surest sign so far that Britain will fall into step on Son of Star Wars, and help hassle the rest of Europe to follow suit.

Much has been made of the disgruntlement among ministers about their "voluntary" pay restraint, imposed by Gordon Brown in 1997. But the strongest pressure for whacking great pay rises around the Cabinet table came from Cherie Blair, who believes hubbie is underpaid. When pay restraint started, the Prime Minister originally wanted to allow ministers to accept the money on an individual basis, but Ir'n Broon objected. In front of witnesses, Blair told his Chancellor: "Well, you can tell Cherie." He dare not. The First Lady is also said to be cross about the precipitate sale of the family home in Islington, north London. It raised £650,000 four years ago, but is now worth well over a million.

As the Portillistas move into frantic mode, a campaign is getting discreetly under way to draft a traditional toff for the Tory leadership. Step forward Michael Ancram, currently the party chairman and easily the nicest chap in Central Office. Traditional Conservatives reckon he would soothe and bind the party while a serious, long-term contender emerges. Phonus balonus. MPs are in too savage a mood to cope with decency. But my Central Office snout says that Ann Widdecombe will definitely not stand.

The entire Parliamentary Labour Party waited breathlessly for a telephone call from Tony Blair on the Sunday after the election. So the Tory MP Nigel Evans was puzzled to receive a bleeper message: "Ring Downing Street immediately. Urgent." Intrigued by the prospect of office in a Labour government, he did so, and was put through to the police, who told him his London flat had flooded.

Benson & Hedges boast a long history of serving the tobacco needs of the Commons. But not for much longer. Their special House of Commons cigarettes are being phased out. The Palace of Westminster's cheapskate authorities have cut the price of a packet of 20 by 30p to £4, but they are still not selling. The decision to drop brand-name fags is part of a much wider review of parliament's smoking policy, which will almost certainly ban smoking for anybody standing at one of the many bars. Perhaps the MPs' Smoking Room will be renamed the Drinking Room, which is what it is.

From Blackfriars Station, blinking in the sunlight, emerges the freshly ennobled Robin Corbett, ex-chairman of the home affairs select committee. He is en route to the College of Heralds to choose a title, and says: "Bugger Erdington" (his former Birmingham constituency). Instead, he is to be Lord Corbett of Castle Vale, a council estate on his patch that pulled itself up by its bootstraps - oh, and many millions of pounds from a Tory housing action trust.

Sick of being penned in like sheep, hacks on the Tony Blair campaign tour began baa-baaing loudly. On the plane back to Sedgefield on election night, two Millbank martinets, Jo Gibbon and Julie Crowley, dressed up as shepherdesses. I know Tory MPs who would pay good money for girls to do that. On a more serious note, journalists briefed by Alastair Campbell about what the PM would say in his "spine" speeches found that Blair ignored the text. That's because he didn't want to wear his specs. He can't read without them, and he's too vain to wear them regularly.

Paul Routledge is chief political commentator for the Mirror

This article first appeared in the 18 June 2001 issue of the New Statesman, Meet the people who make Tony Blair sweat